Before his memory fades, it is imperative to remember Bruce Fortier. Ricky Funkhouser’s Times profile on her through-the-woods neighbor left a wonderful impression of what a thoughtful, old-fashioned, caring, family-oriented man he was. I’m sure those that knew him felt the same way. A picture showed Fortier in his mad-scientist style workshop with her young kids staring wide-eyed at him working away on whirring, spinning machines from another era. He showered them with knowledge, affection and attention -- and caution among all those gizmos -- that they have never forgotten.
In a way, this writer is jealous, because I never met Bruce Fortier. But he had a big impact on the cross-Cape me as the loudmouth you know today. In the beginning, he was on the very Essex boards that he later questioned. He helped write many of the regulations concerning land use and building code -- setbacks, frontage, that stuff. It was said that he usually knew more than anyone else in the room. Also, that he knew the actual wording of the bylaws and regulations by memory. Why not, since he wrote most of them?
That early Bruce Fortier didn’t reach out to Times readers as much. But time marched on. At some point, we political junkies began to notice Cape controversies other than Gloucester’s. Some were the same pressures forming by development of our formerly not-so-in-demand assets, now under assault or threat.
Essex’s issues were more closely held, with less publicity. Gloucester’s were splashed all over the front pages near the end of the investigative political reporter era. It was in your face and up close.
But Essex’s were not. A front-page article often reported the boilerplate info from a board or town official. A meeting summary, etc. Besides, sorry, but who cared back then - it was the 80s, then the 90s. Most of us weren’t thinking about the subtle shades of the Essex bylaws.
That is, until Bruce began writing letters to the editor.
This guy was not afraid to question authority. He attended all the meetings, probably sat in the back and wrote down everything. Then he would write these screeds to fairness, rules, rule-breaking, intent, history and result. Both of the projects and the boards.
He would shine light on absolutely everything. Everything we thought we didn’t need to know about Essex politics -- he would persuade us that we did.
Not sure if Fortier set out to embarrass officials, but he did. Wasn’t sure if they liked Fortier downtown, but he didn’t seem to care. His letters were incisive, declaratory and evidentiary. He didn’t pull punches either.
Did it seem he was painting some boards as fools? Sometimes. Did he cause delays but improve projects? Some thought so. Did he ever outright stop a project or decision dead-in-its-tracks?
From across town, it sure seemed so.
Perhaps because he knew the numbers and facts so well, it made him more fearless but he never seemed to pull back and protect his “reputation” or not get involved the way so many people do. They/we have a fear of getting involved; of going along with the crowd, the conventional wisdom and, most important, not be seen as a troublemaker. Many folks want you to take up their cause in a column but are afraid to be seen saying it themselves. “This is your issue, you should write it,” say I.
“I can’t,” they say.
But not Bruce Fortier. He knew he had right on his side most of the time and was like a charging knight on a white stallion. But his steed was the newspaper -- which loved the controversies -- and in those days, everyone in town read the paper every day. There were no mobile news feeds or distracting cable TV news dominance -- the paper was huge. The editorial page was read closely. A loaded letter -- as his always were -- was like a glove thrown down to Essex leaders, a gauntlet even. It stood out like a dropped tray of dishes -- you couldn’t ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen. It was now out there.
When you go public in print, you can redefine the conventional wisdom. If it’s never addressed or answered, it becomes “the facts” in many people’s heads. Also, not everyone sees the rebuttal, so it stands as the conventional wisdom. Bruce taught me that. He taught not to be afraid to speak out. You have to have the cards in your hand, yes, but you also have to be brave enough to play them. Say out loud what you see happening.
What’s so bad? Memories are short. They’ll get over it. People judge you by your next record, as Mick Jagger used to say.
Bruce forged ahead over what he thought was right. He caused a bunch of trouble but he did the right thing. He hasn’t written in years so I already missed him. He was the Paul Revere of Essex. We owe him a lot.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.